Tag Archives: Museum of American Bird Art

The Great Marsh

This is from a series of posts by MABA resident artist Barry Van Dusen

Barnstable Great Marsh Wildlife Sanctuary, Barnstable on August 16, 2015

I had hoped to get down to Cape Cod last week, but car troubles put my Toyota in the garage for a few days, and by the time I finally get underway a heat wave has settled over New England, with high humidity and temperatures in the 90s. To try and beat the heat, I get an early start and arrive at Barnstable Great Marsh Wildlife Sanctuary by 7:30 am.
A short hike through a forest of oak, cedar, cherries and pines brings me to a small clearing next to an abandoned cabin. A break in the foliage here supplies an elevated view of the marsh, with a backdrop of Sandy Neck in the distance. The Barnstable Great Marsh is the largest salt marsh on Cape Cod, covering more than 3,000 acres.
The clearing is a nice shady spot at this time of the morning, so I set up my scope and pack chair. I spot an osprey, egrets, herons, laughing gulls and shorebirds out on the marsh, but they’re too distant to draw or paint, so I decide to do a landscape. With my 25x scope I can “project myself” out onto the marsh, bringing the dunes of Sandy Neck much closer, and this makes for an appealing composition.

Work in Progress at Barnstable Great Marsh (small)

…the first washes set out to dry in the sun

As I start to lay down the first washes of color I realize that the very high humidity is going to have an effect on my painting. High humidity can be both a blessing and a curse to the watercolorist. The washes of color dry very slowly, so there’s more time to develop the wet passages. I can take my time developing smooth color gradations and soft edges – things which I usually have to hurry with before the paper dries. At some point, however, I need those first washes to dry, so I can paint additional layers over them (what watercolorists refer to as glazing.) Today, it’s taking FOREVER for those first washes to dry! I lay my half-finished painting on a bush in the sun, and wander down the path to the edge of the marsh.  By the time I return to the clearing the washes have finally dried and I can get on with my work. As I’m painting with the scope, small birds zip back and forth through my field of view – swallows – and as a final touch, I add them to my painting.

Swallows Over Barnstable Great Marsh 2 - at 72 dpi

Swallows Over Barnstable Great Marsh, watercolor on Arches cold-press, 9″ x 12.25″

Next, I move down to the edge of the marsh to do some studies of some of the plants I’d noticed there. Growing out on the marsh is an attractive flowering plant that I later identify as saltmarsh fleabane.

Salt-marsh Fleabane at Barnstable Gr Marsh (small)

I’m also intrigued by the bulrushes growing where the woods give way to the marsh grasses. These are robust, 4-foot tall grasses with long curving blades and heavy clusters of cone-shaped seed heads.

Softstem Bulrush - at 72 dpi

Softstem Bulrush, watercolor on Lanaquarelle hot-press, 11.25″ x 9″

It’s getting pretty hot, now, especially in the sun, so I do some exploring along the the shady trails of the sanctuary. I flush a green heron at Otter Pond, and then find a superb stand of cardinal flowers at the outflow of spring-fed Cooper Pond. I had not expected to find cardinal flowers growing wild on Cape Cod, since I most often encounter them far from the coast along cool, tumbling streams in upland forests. But they seem quite happy here, with a second handsome cluster of plants growing further west along the shore. Unfortunately the flower stalks are surrounded on all sides by a thick growth of poison ivy, so I content myself to do some drawing from a distance thru my telescope, and complete this watercolor later in my studio.

Cardinal Flower at Barnstable Gr Marsh 4 - at 72 dpi

Cardinal Flower, watercolor on Arches hot-press, 14″ x 10″

On my way back to the car, I stop to marvel at a wildly contorted cherry tree growing along the trail. In one place the limbs of the tree seem to have tied themselves into a big knot! It deserves, and gets, a study in my sketchbook.

Contorted Cherry Tree at Barnstable Gr Marsh - at 72 dpi

Cherry Tree at Barnstable Great Marsh, pencil study, 8.5″ x8.5″

Monarch Butterflies at the Museum of American Bird Art

Monarch butterflies arrived in the middle of July and taken up residence in the meadow at the Museum of American Bird Art. So far, I’ve counted 4 adults in the meadow at once, with one or two butterflies present on most days. They have been laying lots of eggs on common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) and these have been hatching over the past two weeks. I’ve counted around 20 or so eggs and found 6 caterpillars munching away on milkweed. Monarch caterpillars only eat plants in the milkweed genus (Asclepias) and common milkweed is by far their most important host plant. Approximately 90% of migrating North American monarchs eat common milkweed as caterpillars. I will post updates on monarchs periodically, but wanted to share photos and time lapse videos about the monarchs at MABA. Further, some background information about their migration and conservation can be found at end of this post, including two tremendous Mass Audubon resources.

Monarch Butterfly Eggs

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Look at the beautiful sculpturing that is present on this teeny tiny egg. Once the caterpillars hatch, voracious consumption of milkweed ensures. Check out these time lapse videos.

Adult Monarchs Nectaring At Joe Pye Weed

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Current Status of the North American Monarch Butterfly

In North America, monarch butterfly populations have dramatically declined over the past 20 years, with the population hitting their lowest total ever in the winter 2013-2014. However, Chip Taylor, professor at University of Kansas and founder of Monarch Watch, is guardedly optimistic about this years monarch population.

Where do Monarch Butterflies Spend the Winter?

The majority of North American Monarch Butterflies spend the winter in the pine and oyamel trees located at the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve on the border of Michoacan and Mexico State, Mexico. Monarch butterflies in the Pacific Northwest typically overwinter in trees along the California Coast and there is some evidence that Monarch Butterflies in the Northeastern United States also overwinter in Cuba in addition to Mexico. Check out this fantastic video by MonarchWatch.org of the forests in Mexico where monarchs will spend the winter before migrating back North.

 

Citizen Science Opportunities:
Check out this map of 2015 monarch butterfly and caterpillar sightings. Here are MABA, I report our sightings to this organization to be part of this national citizen science project. Email me, skent@massaudubon.org, if you’d like more information.

Resources to learn more about Monarch Butterflies:

Wet Feet in Bear Country, Part 2

This is from a series of posts by MABA resident artist Barry Van Dusen

West Mountain Wildlife Sanctuary, Plainfield on July 19, 2015

After finishing up with the orchids, I head back to the car and dry out my feet as best I can before heading over to the West Mountain Wildlife Sanctuary trail head on Prospect Street. As I’m assembling my gear to hike the trails, I hear a commotion in the woods across the street, and a young bear pokes its head out of the thick roadside vegetation and looks straight at me! I must look threatening because the animal makes a hasty retreat back into the woods, only to circle around and do the same routine again! The bear clearly wants to cross the road, but after its second retreat it must have decided to cross elsewhere. The bear was not a cub, but about the size of a German shepherd, and I paused to consider whether its mother might still be attending it. The fact that it made so much noise in the woods was re-assuring, since it would be unlikely to take me by surprise if I encounter it again.
Hiking the East Slope Loop Trail I notice that many of the beech trees are suffering from beech bark disease, and I later read on the orientation panel that this disease is contributing to the decline of beeches in the area.

Beech Bark Disease - West Mountain (small)

Attractive lady ferns line the trail, and in some places the forest floor is covered with a thick growth of hobblebush shoots. I stop to make a watercolor study of the hobblebush, since I love the soft orangey-tan buds, which rise like candle flames from the tip of each twig.  I’m also intrigued by the way the color of the new wood is distinctly different from the old.

Hobblebush, West Mountain - at 72 dpi

Hobblebush Study, watercolor on Lanaquarelle hot-press, 9″ x 11.25″

The trail follows alongside two lovely, tumbling brooks and through a hemlock forest – where I’m serenaded by black-throated green warblers and hermit thrushes.

Mountain Brook at West Mountain (small)

BTG Warbler study - at 72 dpi

sketchbook study, pencil and watercolor, 4″ x 5″

 

Wet Feet In Bear Country, Part 1

This is from a series of posts by MABA resident artist Barry Van Dusen

I receive a tip from Ron Wolanin on Thursday that smaller purple fringed orchids are blooming at West Mountain Wildlife Sanctuary in Plainfield. Ron travels to many of the unstaffed central Massachusetts sanctuaries on a weekly basis, and his insider knowledge has been invaluable for my project. I leave Princeton early on the following Sunday, arriving at West Mountain by 8:15 am – already a warm and very humid day. I have no trouble locating the spot Ron has directed me to. Ron had warned me that the meadow was wet, so I’ve brought along an inexpensive pair of rubber wellies.

Purple-fringed Orchis sketchbook page - West Mtn - at 72 dpi

sketchbook page, 9″ x 12″

The orchids are SPECTACULAR! I note about two dozen plants in various stages of blooming.  The small, delicate blossoms take close scrutiny to understand their form and structure, and I get to work with my sketchbook. The flower cluster is a true spike (not a raceme), with blossoms attached directly to the straight, trunk-like stem.  The colors of the blossoms vary from a pale pink to a deep magenta purple, and I record these variations with color swatches in my sketchbook. I want to record these colors accurately (since they are often distorted in photos) and at the same time, figure out which pigments in my watercolor box will best match the blossoms.

Purple-fringed Orchis 2 (purple) - West Mtn - at 72 dpi

Smaller Purple-fringed Orchis I, watercolor on Arches hot-press, 11.5″ x 9″

Purple-fringed Orchis 1 (pink) - West Mtn - at 72 dpi

Smaller Purple-fringed Orchis II, watercolor on Arches hot-press, 11.5″ x 9″

I’m standing (or rather squatting) ankle deep in water, and have propped my pack chair in a nearby woody shrub to keep paper and materials dry. A water cup seems beside-the-point, and I simply dip my brush in the water at my feet. After painting for a while in this squatting position, I feel my left boot starting to leak and by the time I finish, my foot and sock are soaking wet. NOTE TO SELF: buy a better pair of wellies and bring extra socks next time!

Swamp sparrows are sounding off all around me, and tee-ing up occasionally on low snags. At one point a willow flycatcher moves through, giving me fine, eye-level views, and I take some notes and make a quick sketch of it.

Willow Flycatcher sketchbook study - West Mtn- at 72 dpi

sketchbook study, 5″ x 6.5″

 

Acclaimed Bird Artists Visit A Naturalist’s Eden

A group of bird artists gathered at MABA yesterday to revel in—and draw inspiration from—the artistry of Don Eckelberry’s watercolors, now on exhibit.

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Left to right: Lucia deLeiris, Rob Braunfield, Jim Coe, Al Gilbert, Cindy House, Gigi Hopkins, Barry Van Dusen, Mike DiGiorgio

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The artists taking in the Don Eckelberry Exhibition

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Left to right: Julie Zickefoose and MABA director Amy Montague

 

Barry Van Dusen sharing his amazing collection of art from his residency at the Museum of American Bird Art

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Connecting Art with Nature: Highlights from our Wild Photography Week

Campers have been having a great week during the Wild Photography Camp session. We’ve been having lots of fun learning about photography, creating art, and exploring the sanctuary. Check out our post on the campers building the cameras. Here are the top moments from the week:

Moment #1: Painting with light (seriously)

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Moment #3: Silkscreen and watercolor of an Audubon Owl Print

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Moment #3: Nature hikes and photo scavenger hunts

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Moment #4: Collagraphic printmaking with natural materials

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Moment #5: Creating paintbrushes out of natural materials to paint a wall mural

 

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Moment #6: Creating Audubon prints and then visiting the permanent collection to learn more about printmaking

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Moment #7: Creating photo stories in the bird and pollinator garden

 

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Connecting art with nature: Top moments from the Take Flight (Week 2) Camp Session

Campers have been having a great week during the Take Flight session. We’ve been having lots of fun learning about birds, creating bird inspired art, and exploring the sanctuary. During the week, campers loved our visit from the internationally renowned Caterpillar Lab from Keene, New Hampshire, and printmaking workshop with the amazing Sherrie York. Here are the top moments from the week:

Moment #1: Fantastic Charcoal Drawings with our artist Katie Buchanan

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Moment #2: Collecting natural materials for leaf prints in their nature journal

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Moment #3: Nature Hikes and Scavenger Hunts

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Moment #4: Creating art using the process of suminagashi

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Moment #5: Visit from Sherrie York

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Moment #6: Excitement with the Caterpillar Lab

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Printmaking with Sherrie York at the Wild at Art Summer Camp

Excitement permeated through the Wild at Art Summer Camp on Thursday July 17 because artist Sherrie York, an internationally renowned printmaker, stopped by and taught all the campers a little about the art of printmaking.

Since this was during the Take Flight week, all the campers made prints that were inspired by the different textures of bird feathers. Each group of campers started off in our fantastic exhibition “The Birds of Trinidad and Tobago” and looked at the different types of feathers found on the different birds. Next, they created a relief print on foam board and then created ink prints. Check out all the fun.

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Campers with Sherrie York checking out the different types of feathers

Creating Relief Prints

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Creating Prints

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The Finished Product!

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Connecting with art and nature: Top moments from the Natural Connections week at the Wild at Art Camp

We had an amazing first week at our Wild at Art Camp. Our theme was Natural Connections and the campers learned and created art focused on the web that connects plants and animals.

Moment #1: The Caterpillar Lab

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Moment #2: Creating marbled paper (sumagashi) and birch tree paintings

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Moment #3: Using found materials to build an eight foot wide eagles nest

Cam Eagles Nest

Moment #4: Collecting natural materials for art

Bethany's Group Field

Collecting natural materials for art projects

Nature Quests

Collecting natural materials for art projects

Moment #5: Warming up with charcoal before some awesome art projects

Katie Buchanan Charcoal

Our teaching artist, Katie Buchanan, and camper Cora warming up for the art activity with charcoal

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Camper David and Liam having fun drawing with charcoal

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Moment #6: Getting up close with dragonflies and other critters in the meadow

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Sean Kent, the Wild at Art Camp director, shows camper Janek, Handel, Cooper, and Thomas, a dragonfly from the meadow.

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Camper Janek, Cooper, and Thomas catching critters in the meadow

Moment #7: Creating art everywhere, even on the sidewalk

Chalk Butterflies

 

Moment #8: Watercolors using water from our pond full of tadpoles

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Moment #9: Going behind the scenes in the art museum and creating Charlie Harper Inspired art based on their up close tour

 

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Launching Taking Flight

Welcome to Taking Flight, the new blog from the Museum of American Bird Art (MABA)! We look forward to sharing insights on a wide range of subjects, from the lives of bird artists to behind-the-scenes operations of the museum, and much more.

Sean Kent, MABA educator and camp director, will coordinate the effort. As the blog unfolds, you’ll find postings from various museum staff and volunteers, as well as visiting artists. Don’t miss the series by MABA Artist in Residence, Barry Van Dusen, who is traveling to Mass Audubon sanctuaries across the state, capturing the flora, fauna and landscape with his pencil and brush.

We hope you will participate, too, by sharing your thoughts with us. Let’s take flight together!

Amy Montague, MABA director